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Mervin Honig (1920 – 1990)

Updated: Apr 11

Army Poker, c. 1943, probably tempera on board, signed upper right, 16 x 20 inches, inscribed verso a) “Army Poker / Mervin Honig / 421 W 42 St. N.Y.C.,” b) “Mervin Honig / US Army Air Force – Seymour Johnson Field – Goldsboro, NC / Circa 1943,” and c) “(This painting was done before men was (sic) shipped off to the Mariana Islands (Saipan) The Second World War.” Note: four pencil sketches for this work included.


Mervin Honig was a New York-based painter and illustrator who is best known for his realistic depictions of everyday life and sports themes. Honig was raised in Brooklyn and recalled almost never being without a paintbox in hand from the time he started elementary school. Honig had a deep reverence for the Old Master painters, Vermeer and Bellini, as well as the Americans Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins. He initially studied art from 1939 through 1941 with Francis Criss. At the outbreak of World War II, Honig worked as a mechanic for Republic Aviation, but in August 1942, he enlisted in the US Army Air Corps and was stationed at Seymour Johnson Field in Goldsboro, North Carolina. During the war, Honig began to exhibit nationally, including as part of the Portrait of America exhibitions which originated at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and traveled around the country, as well as at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. He painted Army Poker in 1943 while stationed at Johnson Field. In this work, Honig draws inspiration from Paul Cezanne's The Card Players (Metropolitan Museum of Art), with a similar placement of the four figures, but Cezanne's table is replaced with an Army cot, the pipe rack with a soldier's mess kit and the drapery in the right background with a heap of discarded uniforms. Unlike the vibrancy of Cezanne's composition, the limited palette of Honig's work suggests the drabness and monotony of stateside Army life.

After being discharged from military service, Honig furthered his studies with Amadee Ozenfant in 1946 and Hans Hoffman from 1947 through 1950. Additional exhibitions included the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Academy of Design, the Wadsworth Atheneum, the Provincetown Art Association, and the National Academies Galleries of the Allied Artists Association. He was represented by the venerable Frank Rehn Gallery and ACA Gallery, both in New York.  Later in life, in addition to his fine art practice, Honig also worked as a conservator and taught at NYC Community College and Hofstra University. He was married to the sculptor, Rhoda Sherbel. Honig’s works are in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Colby College Museum of Art, and the Oklahoma Museum of Art. He is listed in Who Was Who in American Art and all other standard references.  


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